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Grindhouse: A Clever Experiment That Succeeds

Should you spend three hours of your life indulging two directors’ fanboy fantasies with a parade of gross-out humor, awkward pacing, bad acting, and obscure movie references?

Yes, you absolutely should.

As you've probably heard by now, Grindhouse is actually two movies in one: Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. But it's also an ambitious attempt to recreate an obsolete experience — seeing a double-feature at a '70s B-movie parlor, complete with trailers, missing film reels, scratched frames, and the freedom to applaud ass-kicking moments and "ew" over icky ones.

In this regard, collaborators and comrades Rodriguez and Tarantino are entirely successful, and it's highly entertaining to watch how they pull it off, so

I know a lot of you are approaching Grindhouse with total disinterest, but the intentionally over-the-top movie is actually quite thought-provoking. Each director interprets the challenge differently, which makes the film pairing that much more captivating.

The first movie, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is pure homage — a zombie movie with a modern-day terrorism twist — and, in my opinion, the more successful of the two. It has all the trappings of a B-movie, including choppy editing, a pointless plot, even B-list actors, including Freddy Rodriguez as a vigilante and Rose McGowan as a go-go dancer on a mission. The acting is at once terrible and brilliant — Stacy Ferguson (aka "Fergie") couldn't act her way out of a backseat, and for that reason, she is expertly cast as a troubled motorist.

The problem with actual bad movies is that they have the potential to be really boring. What's impressive about Planet Terror is that it feels authentic without actually being bad. Much the way John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China was both campy and entertaining, Rodriguez manages to make tired B-movie tropes — cliched dialog, blood and guts that might have been purchased at Spencer Gifts — feel surprisingly novel.

But while Planet's influences are obvious, Tarantino’s contribution, a sort of tribute to stunt-people called Death Proof, is harder to get your head around. Much the way that Kill Bill took the martial arts movie and Tarantinofied it, Death Proof gathers inspiration from car-chase films and horror flicks to invent what feels like an entirely new genre.

Oddly, Death Proof also plays like two movies in one, and like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, the action unfolds in what looks like a fictional era, blending a '70s aesthetic with modern conveniences like cell phones. Set and shot in Austin, TX — in what feels like an excuse for Tarantino to namecheck lots of local restaurants — the first half follows a group of freewheeling gals on a night out, and though it turns out to be a horror movie, it forgoes the dramatic tension that normally imbues horror movies, so the format feels entirely unfamiliar.

The same thing could be said for part two, which follows another group of girls only tangentially related to the first group. Working on location for a movie, these women — including Kill Bill stunt-woman Zoe Bell, playing herself — morph the movie from horror film into women's revenge flick in a way that's entirely unexpected and also quite jarring.

It would be an impressive trick, but in my opinion, Tarantino doesn't quite pull it off. Rather than work in his favor, the odd pacing makes the disparate plots feel unfinished. At the same time, the trademark Tarantino banter in cars and diners feels watered down compared to some of the genius scenes in Reservoir Dogs and other Tarantino movies. However, I will say that Death Proof feels unlike anything I've ever seen on the big screen — and also like one of those cases where I should wait to see the director's cut.


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